Static: Guilt vs. Shame

Static by Ron Martoia, is a book I got a chance to read through this “Emerging Models of Church Life” class that I’m taking and have blogged about before.

I’d first heard about the book at Q and had read the publisher’s sneak peek and was intrigued from the start. For the most part, I’d have to say the book delivers on all its initial promise. Martoia is very helpful in navigating the communication failures between Christendom and the rest of the world and for that I recommend this book. But you don’t have to take my word for it (ba da Da!) The writing style is so-so and certainly not as innovative as the thoughts presented, but very readable– which I suppose is the point. I just (hypocritically) think that he could be more efficient with his words.

For an Asian American however, I’d like to share a short excerpt here that I think is very pertinent to our struggle with negotiating church language and contextualizing it to our cultural needs. From chapter 23, entitled “Recentering Our Storytelling”, here are couple of spot excerpts, hope you enjoy:

First, when we’re talking to people who have an ill-formed or nonexistent concept of the Other, and thus have little or no sense of obligation and guilt, is there a better way to connect with them than the old sin-and-repentance model? What would be a good alternative? Let me suggest a possible alternative…I think we need to come up with a number of ways to effectively communicate teh message of Jesus to the new, emerging culture….

In the story we typically tell about the Garden, we tend to capitalize on the fact that Adam and Eve sinned. As a fact, that is true….

Bible scholars and psychologists agree as to why Adam and Eve wanted to cover themselves: They were ashamed….It is this exposure that leads Adam and Eve to the strong desire to be covered, not only in their nakedness but also in their hiding physically from God. Is it possible shame is part of the new verbal currency that better describes the self in our postmodern world? And if so, is it possible to retell the story of Jesus’ death in such a way that addresses the issue of shame? Isn’t that just as much a part of the Genesis story as sin?….

Joel Green recounts an interesting story about Norman Kraus, a missionary to Japan. In the Japanese culture, the idea of Jesus paying the price by dying for the sins of the peopel simply didn’t connect. Why? The culture wasn’t based on guilt and the need to have guilt removed. The culture was based on shame and the need to have shame addressed. This led Kraus to reframe the message of the Cross in a way that addressed shame and paid little attention to guilt.

Kraus concluded that shame was associated with concepts like defilement and uncleanness, whereas guilt tended to be associated with specific acts of wrongdoing for which the individual must bear responsibility. Kraus argued that retelling the story of the Cross in such a way that it addressed the issue of shame wasn’t a distortion of the biblical text, but in fact was much more a part of the biblical text than most Westerners understood.

Many Asians and Asian Americans, having inherited a very moral society in their mother cultures, fail to identify with guilt for sin. But they do work a great deal to avoid shame. Now something happens to those who are enculturated in church where guilt becomes just as weighty as in the Western context, but in my observations, that happens later. Perhaps in our external presentation, we need to address shame…and then we need to prevent the culture of guilt from adopting us.

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